How many alternative uses are there for a small, empty box of couscous and a paint-stirring stick?
If you're a child taking violin lessons with Geri Arnold, you might see these everyday objects gain new life as a box violin. It's a simulated instrument she constructs to give students practice holding the violin before graduating to the real thing.
On a recent weekday evening, Arnold gathered children ranging in age from 4 to 9 years old for a group class at her home studio in the Fairmeadows neighborhood near SouthPark mall. She ensured students were standing correctly using foot charts on the floor made from decorated red and green folders.
Some clasped tiny authentic violins coupled with improvised shoulder rests fashioned from sponges and elastic bands; one held a box violin.
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To a visitor, the 30-minute session seemed to fly in a pleasant whirl of holiday songs led by Arnold and activities to practice stage presence.
An accomplished violinist, violin teacher and teacher trainer, Arnold's background is in the Suzuki method of teaching.
Developed by esteemed educator Dr. Shinichi Suzuki of Japan, it's a philosophy that, along with the music, seeks to establish students cooperation and teamwork skills, and improve their concentration and coordination.
Arnold studied and toured with Suzuki and says he wanted children to succeed academically as well as learn violin.
"The fact that they play violin in a phenomenal way is secondary to what they derive from the study of the instrument," she said.
In the Suzuki approach, one aspect of the learning environment is children learning from children. Arnold says older children model appropriate behaviors for younger ones, while being around younger children means the older children benefit from plenty of repetition.
Central to the Suzuki method is parental commitment, according to Arnold. That's why she also teaches a parents' class. Though parents don't need to become expert violinists, it's necessary to know what tasks children should practice and how to correct them in a positive manner at home.
"Everybody wants everybody's child to do well, see. And that's the environment we've set up," said Arnold.
Arnold, 60, studied at Interlochen Arts Academy, a fine-arts school in Michigan, and earned music degrees from the University of Michigan.
"Interlochen is a place that opens doors," she said.
Arnold's career has taken her to international destinations, including Bermuda and Kenya.
She even performed once for a U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, at the Kennedy Center.
Arnold says she relocated to Charlotte from her home in Michigan just four months ago. She's already immersing herself in the community: joining a church, tutoring second-graders in reading and
participating in water aerobics.
Charlotte is "a big city with such a friendly feel," she said.
In January, she'll be recognized with a career achievement award from the Michigan chapter of the American String Teachers Association.
"I'm so honored," said Arnold.
She and her husband, Dr. Gary Arnold, a dentist, are parents of two grown children who, like their mother, play the violin.